I spent my first week in NYC as a trainee at The Creative Center Training Institute for Artists and Administrators at the University Settlement. The week was packed full of field trips, amazing workshops, and presentations from some of the US leaders in the field of creative aging. The programme was run by the inspirational Director of the Creative Centre’s, Robin Glazer, a cancer survivor and mother of five who is dedicated to continuing the momentum of hospital artist-in-residence programs throughout the United States.
The programme was so rich that I couldn’t do it justice in a short article, so I have picked out 5 of my favorite events.
#1. Presentation and Workshop from OMA
As both an academic and an art practitioner, this session was just about everything I could hope for. Elizabeth ‘Like’ Lokon and Beth Rohrbaugh (OMA’s Director and Assistant Director) gave an engaging, structured and inspiring presentation which highlighted how the gap between art practice and research could be bridged.
Their insights on evaluation were particularly interesting, as they demonstrated how the inclusion of research could enhance the creative approach while helping with advocacy. The evaluation tools they presented were coherent, well-thought-out, adapted to their audience, yet very accessible to an artist with no background in research. The session also included a workshop where we learned how to make a modern piece using OMA’s method. The piece looked sophisticated and professional, yet easy for someone with dementia to make.
What particularly resonated with me was the emphasis on allowing the participants living with dementia to make their own artistic choices and for the facilitator to support this agency through a relational process. There is much more to be said, but I will stop here, as I will be spending two weeks observing the work of OMA and plan to write in more depth about it..!
#2 Interviewing an NYC-based Older Artist in Their Studio
This was one of the ‘magical moments’. We teamed up in small groups of 4-5 as we were given the name and address of an artist living in NYC to go interview in their home/studio. My group got given the address of a painter named Cliff, who had to adapt his entire art practice after a spinal injury left him paralysed. As we entered the stunning Manhattan loft, we were warmly welcomed by Cliff and his wife who made us feel comfortable straight away. Half of Cliff’s apartment was converted into an art studio, and his paintings were displayed all over the brick walls. What struck me was how bright, and colourful Cliff’s paintings were, as well as the incredible technique which went into his work. Cliff’s artwork seemed to reflect his positive personality, but also his resilience as a person and an artist over the years. This interview was also an opportunity to learn more about the life of older NYC artists, as I discovered that it was common practice for a group of artist in the 70s to buy entire buildings where they could live and create together.
#3 Presentation and Workshop from StoryCorps
I have always been a fan of StoryCorps’s work and have spent many Sunday mornings shedding tears while listening to their beautiful recordings, so was excited to be able to meet their team. What I particularly enjoyed about this presentation was the engaging aspect of it with small workshops, which got us to think about our practice and apply the principles of StoryCorps interview techniques to it. I use storytelling a lot in my own work, and this workshop helped further develop my skills while working with participants. It also got me thinking about interview techniques for my academic work and made me reconsider the questions that I planned on asking participants during my fieldwork.
#4 Ink Blot Workshop with Margaret Peot
I have worked with ink in the past, but this workshop helped me consider the possibilities offered by this type of art and the various directions in which it could be taken. It got me thinking about how such fine art techniques could be introduced to performance work with participants, serve as an ice-breaker activity, or even the starting point of a story or show. I liked the simplicity of it, which can be used with people living with various stages of dementia while delivering stunning visual results.
#5 Finger Knitting
Many of people with who I worked used to be great knitters but, when offered, never dared to go back to it because of the dexterity required. The workshop helped me position myself in the shoes of these participants who might have visuals, hearing or tactile impairments, and showed me a way in which a much-loved activity could be adapted to the ability of participants.